Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Niyamas: Saucha April 5, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 7:47 pm
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Today we move from the five yamas (restrictions or restraints) to the five niyamas (observances).  (I’m hoping that when I’ve finished with the niyamas, I will have formed Voltron.)

The first niyama is saucha: “purity” or “simplicity”. Saucha involves keeping the body clean, because that’s important for keeping both body and mind healthy. One shouldn’t be prideful about her appearance, but paying attention to cleanliness and hygiene is part of life. We should also practice mindfulness about what we put into our bodies (for example, choosing an apple over a Big Mac), since the food we put into our bodies affects our internal cleanliness. Saucha is also about purity of mind. We need to make mindful and discriminating choices about everything we take in: not only food, but also books, TV, movies, and the company we keep, because these things have an affect on the purity of our minds. For example, I decided a long time ago that I can’t watch horror movies. Although horror movies are exciting in the short term, the bloody violent images get emblazoned on my brain and I have nightmares for days – but horror movies are cool and lots of people like them, so I kept watching them and kept having nightmares. Finally I decided it wasn’t worth it and said goodbye to Freddy and Jason. I’ll still freak myself out over things I saw a long time ago, because I can’t erase those pictures from my mind, but I’m much happier not adding new horrible things to the gallery.

Satchidananda and Devi have pretty different translations of the sutras on saucha (2.40-2.41):

Satchidananda: By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies.  Moreover, one gains purity of sattva, cheerfulness of mind, one-pointedness, mastery over the senses, and fitness for Self-realization. (142, 145)

Devi: Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms. (206)

Satchidananda’s version sounds a little crazy. He states that our bodies are dirty: always excreting waste, even through our pores, and never truly being clean no matter how often we wash. He says that when we realize this, we lose our attachment to the body and our desire to join our dirty bodies with other people’s dirty bodies (see, I knew Voltron had a place in this post somewhere) and we are able to focus more closely on spiritual practice. Satchidananda then goes on to say that once you understand the body, the heart and mind become purified as well, making us ready for meditation and Self-realization. For this one, I’m glad that I’m also reading Devi, since her commentary really provides a nice counterpoint to Satchidananda’s and helps me make sense of what he says.

For Devi, saucha is about simplicity as well as purity. When we eliminate needless complication from our lives, we can distill down to the pure essence of who we are, who and what we love, and what we want to do. Devi also talks about purity of heart. She notes that nurses kindly take care of sick people, no matter what bodily discharges are involved, because they have the purity of heart to serve others with patience. This is such an interesting counterpoint to what Satchidananda says about bodies being dirty. People like Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, and the nurses at your local hospital know exactly how disgusting the body can be, but they’re able to rise above it with compassion. Satchidananda’s description makes me think of an OCD monk, so I find Devi’s real-world example very moving. Of course that’s what purity is really about! I think too of a mother with a young child: whether it’s a baby with a dirty diaper or an older child with a stomach bug, the mother cleans up the mess. It’s simple because it’s really about love.

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Teaching a seated twist!

Filed under: Pose of the Month,teacher training,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:54 am
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Last night in yoga class, there were three of us teacher trainees there, and we all got to teach. (I don’t think I’m going to get to relax and enjoy a yoga class for the next 9.5 months, but hey, it makes sense that I actually have to work for my almost-a-year of complimentary yoga classes.) Julia did a balance pose, Nancy did a backbend, and I did a seated twist.

Seated twist.(Hey, check it out, I added an item of visual interest to my post! Thanks to F, special guest photographer, who somehow managed to climb halfway up the wall to get this shot. I went back and added a photo to my Tree Pose post too!)

So here’s the seated twist I chose to teach. And of course, J asked us not to do the pose ourselves, just to talk through it. I understand why he wants us to do it that way, but what I discovered is that this is a difficult pose to tell someone how to get into.

OK, so first, you start out sitting up straight with your legs out in front of you. Easy. Now you’ve got to get the leg bend. What I said was something like, “Bring up your left knee, and then let it drop off to the side, and press your left foot against your right thigh.” That’s how I personally do it, but based on the class response, it might not be the best way ever to tell someone else how to do it (I then followed up that clear and accessible bit of instruction with, “Look, Julia’s got it!”). Not totally sure what the best way would be. Maybe, “Bend the left knee and slide your foot up your right leg”? Or just, “Bend your left knee and place your foot against your right thigh”? But then you miss the bit where the left leg is parallel to the floor, not up.

Anyway, hopefully now we’ve got the leg bent, so next is the twist. What I said was, “Raise your left arm – no, just to shoulder height – and now twist toward your left leg. Let your left arm lead you into the twist, and when you’re at the limit of the twist, drop your left hand to the floor. Bring your right hand to your left knee, and look over your left shoulder” (I’m not looking over my shoulder in the photo, but you should be when you try this at home). In retrospect, I should have brought the right hand to the knee first, then done the twist, because I think the hand on the knee gives you some leverage and helps keep your back straight, which people were having some trouble with. I also might have offered some guidance on where the left hand should drop behind you – i.e., right behind your tush – because having the hand too far back possibly caused people to be leaning back too much. A few people were confused about the whole darn thing and J had to go fix one woman, which I was a little embarrassed about.

Things I neglected to mention: keeping your right foot flexed and right leg active instead of just letting it lay there, and using the breath to deepen into the pose (breathe in and lengthen your spine, breathe out and move a little deeper into the twist). I also neglected to count my breaths as a way of telling how long they’d been in the pose so I just had to guess.

And then, you untwist and do it on the other side, which hopefully is less confusing because you just did it once. It seemed to be less confusing on the other side in class.

Overall, I don’t think I did the best job ever teaching this pose, but it helped to deconstruct it a bit here to see what I can do better next time. (I don’t know that I’ll always post here after every time I teach anything, because that would be a lot considering I’m trying to get to class twice a week. Maybe I’ll post for every new pose I get to teach? Or every interesting and out of the ordinary teaching event? We’ll see.)